Reporters complained on Tuesday that they were no longer allowed to interview senators in the Capitol without prior approval of the Senate Rules Committee.
The Capitol and congressional office buildings are home to a robust press corps that has the ability to access most of the complex. Reporters from print, television and radio media are free to question members of the House and Senate in certain areas as they move between their offices, hearings and chamber floors. TV reporters regularly conduct live interviews with senators in the hallways. Members of Congress who don’t wish to participate are free to continue walking or turn down interview requests.
Senate Rules Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., announced Tuesday no such rules change had even been implemented.
Reports of Tuesdays’ decision came on a busy day on Capitol Hill, with multiple cabinet secretaries testifying on their agencies’ budgets and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appear publicly to testify on alleged Russia ties. The Senate and House are both conducting investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as is the FBI.
The Republican-controlled Senate is also quietly working on its version of a health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The House passed its version last month but the two chambers must agree on one text before the bill can be sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
The Senate wants to vote on its bill before the July 4 recess, which leaves them three weeks to finish a draft and rally enough votes to pass it. Republicans have said they will not be publicly releasing the text of the bill. The party campaigned on a promise to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation and replace it with a different bill.
Trump has routinely attacked what he calls the “mainstream media” and derided stories he considers unflattering to him or Republicans as “fake news.” The New York Times reported that Trump suggested former FBI Director James Comey jail journalists for reporting classified information. The president has been incensed by the stream of leaks coming out of the administration in relation to the ongoing investigation into potential ties between his campaign and Russia.
Reporters took to Twitter to protest the new restriction that would significantly limit their access to lawmakers.